BATON ROUGE — Louisiana lawmakers have rewritten the state’s criminal justice laws in an effort to shrink the prison population and keep inmates from returning once they leave. Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the changes into law Thursday. The bills have a variety of aims:
Less Time Behind Bars
Probation and parole eligibility will be expanded, primarily for those who committed non-violent crimes. The maximum probation length is being reduced for most nonviolent offenses from five years to three years.
First-time violent offenders will be eligible for parole after serving 65 percent of their sentence, rather than 75 percent.
Mandatory minimum sentences for many nonviolent crimes are being reduced or eliminated.
Drug offenders will be encouraged to enter drug court programs that offer incentives for staying clean.
The window of time that certain prior convictions count toward classification as a habitual offender is being shortened. The so-called cleansing period will be reduced form 10 years to five years for nonviolent and non-sex crimes.
Ex-offenders cannot be incarcerated or have their driver’s license suspended if they can’t pay court fees or fines
Inmates whose medical treatment is particularly expensive could be temporarily released on furlough so the federal government would pay for 90 percent of the costs through Medicaid. The federal government does not pay for any medical costs if someone is incarcerated.
Better Futures For Ex-Offenders
Seventy percent of any savings will be reinvested in anti-recidivism programs. These include the expansion of programs that teach inmates skills that will help them secure jobs upon their release.
Ex-offenders are expected to have an easier time obtaining certain occupational licenses.
Decreasing Financial Burdens
Fines, court fees and restitution will shrink if such payments cause a “substantial financial hardship” for felons on probation or parole. The monthly payments cannot exceed the wages earned in a single eight-hour work day. If the ex-offender repays the fees consistently for a number of months, the rest of the debts will be forgiven.
The accrual of child support obligations can be suspended while an offender is incarcerated for at least 180 days and can’t pay, to be reapplied after the offender’s release. For example, a parolee who was in prison for two years could be forced to owe child support for two years longer than he or she otherwise would have.
Drug felons won’t be barred from receiving food stamps and welfare benefits upon release.
A task force will study the possible creation of a felony class system to standardize sentencing guidelines and achieve more consistency in how felonies are prosecuted.